Tyson Fury claims controversial victory over Francis Ngannou despite knockdown
MMA superstar Francis Ngannou has been denied a remarkable victory over WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury after the Brit was awarded a controversial split-decision victory in their Battle of the Baddest showdown in Saudi Arabia on Saturday night.
The Cameroonian, a former UFC heavyweight champion, defied all expectations and produced a truly remarkable display in Riyadh, flooring Fury in the third round, and appeared to have won the contest only for the judges to award it the other way amid a chorus of boos.
The Gypsy King made a surprisingly aggressive start to the fight, charging Ngannou down straight away, and looked to have zero fears about his opponent’s much-talked-about punching power. Rarely has he appeared so relaxed in fight week and there was a degree of impudence about the way he confronted Ngannou early on.
Fury’s superior boxing IQ and movement was apparent but he looked a little careless, even reckless, while Ngannou was happy to stand and trade and unleashed a couple of big hits of his own.
The UFC star was certainly in the bout in the second round and, as he grew in confidence, started to cause Fury more problems than he was probably anticipating, with a cut to his forehead adding to the drama.
The specks of blood on Fury’s brow emboldened Ngannou and forced the lineal champ to box a little more cautiously after his early assault. The fight was certainly more competitive than many had expected and Ngannou left the whole of Riyadh in stunned silence when he floored Fury in the third round.
A huge left hook from Ngannou landed high on Fury’s head and he collapsed to the canvas, looking back up at his opponent with sheer disbelief in his eyes. This was not in the script. This was not supposed to happen. He managed to get back up shortly before the bell and gave Ngannou a pat on the shoulder as he went back to his corner.
But the pattern of the fight continued, with Ngannou’s unorthodox style and huge hitting causing Fury more problems than he had encountered arguably since his first fight against Deontay Wilder. Fury was supposed to walk through the UFC star, but instead he was walking into bombs.
The Brit reasserted some measure of control towards the end of the fourth round but by this stage it was conceivable that Ngannou was five points up after his knockdown. Fury needed all his resilience and ringcraft and gave a much better showing in the fifth round, finally finding his rhythm and stringing together combinations.
Few expected the fight to go the distance but as the bout entered its second half now the question that arose was whether Ngannou had the necessary stamina to keep unloading. This is where Fury’s movement and speed started to give him the advantage, making his opponent work a little more.
But with Ngannou surely up on the scorecards, he could afford to box more patiently and invite Fury onto him. The Gypsy King showed his frustration and, perhaps, panic when he rushed in and fell over in the seventh round – a round Ngannou probably won.
As the eighth got underway it started to feel as though Fury needed something big to ensure victory but Ngannou was still throwing back meaningful shots of his own with each greeted by a mixture of awe and astonishment. Suddenly Ngannou exploded again, marching forward and rocking Fury to surely claim another round.
Rarely has Fury looked so beat up and bruised, with blood dripping from his forehead, nose and mouth. As he sat on his stool before the ninth he had a look of confusion on his face – and perhaps even realisation that his unbeaten record might be toppled by a man who had never boxed professionally before.
Ngannou was blowing but kept throwing, another slap of his left hand sending Fury staggering backwards, and his lack of experience looked less and less evident as the match continued. It was the 37-year-old who was controlling the centre of the ring, and Fury who was becoming increasingly chaotic in his search of a response.
As the tenth and final round got underway it felt as though Ngannou only had to stay on his feet to pull off one of the biggest upsets in boxing history. Fury needed something big, but he remained second best and still Ngannou pressed forward.
Yet, as so often happens in boxing, Ngannou’s tremendous, odds-defying display was all for nothing. One judge scored it 95-94 to the Cameroonian, the other two had it 96-93 and 95-94 to Fury. An otherwise largely quiet stadium greeted the announcement with contempt.
Before he took on the inexperienced Ngannou, many thought this fight – surely more exhibition than a genuine contest – would have an asterisk next to it on Fury’s CV. It still does, but now for a very different reason. The Gypsy King’s ‘0’ survives intact, but suddenly he looks more vulnerable than ever before.